IATEFL – On Classroom Ideas

B-side C-side
B-side C-side
I’ve just got back from the IATEFL conference, a huge sprawling monster of a conference. The best way that I can think of to reflect on what I’ve seen is to blog about it. The good thing is that loads of the conference is available online – where this is the case I’ll link to it. As it is so sprawling, I’ve had to spread my reflections across a few posts. I’ve tried to organised the post thematically, but the line between them is slightly arbitrary, bear with me on this.

I’ve posted on the IATEFL sessions that related to Methodology, this post is a summary of those sessions which focussed more on practical classroom ideas. As before I’m a little bit concerned around the ethics of blogging conferences – see post from Jeremy Harmer here. Should you wish me to change/remove parts – just let me know.


In the ESOL Pre Conference Event, Janet Golding from Trinity College London talked about reasons why learners often under perform in speaking and listening exams. There can be many things that learners do:

  • they might not quite understand tasks
  • They revert to using their first language
  • They might not work well as a pair/group

Janet explored a number of topics around this; learners might be very dominant or passive in conversation and they might not be accustomed to Western conversation conventions in terms of turn-taking etc. Learners often have a fear of making mistakes. We then considered where exams were different from everyday life – this obviously depends on the examination itself, but considering Skills for Life ESOL exams try to replicate real tasks most of the differences centred around the power context where the introduction of an examiner and a increase in the stakes surrounding the situation – this is where nerves come in. Classes are thus more cosy than exams. An interesting point here was that this often puts learners off asking for clarification of things, feeling that they will be penalised for this – this is a misconception (in these exams).

The key to dealing with this is to develop the ‘Art of Communication’. Learners need to have the confidence to take risks. Suggested activities to do this were: Role-plays using board games, breathing techniques for relaxation, Chinese whispers, using video to develop body language and also that in all activities groupings and pairings should be constantly mixed around, so learners don’t become dependent on speaking just to people that they know well. The key thing is that in this case, the skills required for the exam should be those which are genuinely useful for everyday life.

Trinity were then followed by their arch-rivals Cambridge ESOL, represented by James McGoldrick who also works at City and Islington College (I’m guessing, but CANDI is probably the biggest ESOL provider in London). His focus was on developing literacy skills in ESOL learners who lack them. Hi talk drew on research from LLU+ and the critical guide to ESOL from Melanie Cooke and James Simpson. The key to his talk was that there was a lack of collaborative writing development activities in ESOL classes, and he made a number of suggestions for how this could be improved. The use of a group language experience approach, where learners talk and write about a shared experience was seen as a great collaborative way to develop writing. Likewise, dictagloss could be used to get learners talking, collaborating and writing together. Self-study was also seen as key in learners developing their skills. This could be done through collecting texts and then bringing them in to class to work on.

Jamie Keddie – The Authenticity Trap


On the first day of the main conference, Jamie Keddie presented the way that he likes to exploit authentic materials and to avoid the traps caused by material that is not specifically designed for language learners. Jamie made the point that many authentic materials are underpinned by cultural knowledge that many learners won’t have. Jamie felt that we should approach this by looking at the questions that learners would have and use them to pre-teach the cultural concepts around authentic clips and texts. Then present this through asking the students questions while providing loads of visual context. I really liked the way that this kept the pre-teaching feeling dynamic rather than a dry teacher delivered explanation, questions are a great teaching tool and can be used well. The next issue was how to drawn out and focus language that emerges from authentic materials Jamie’s trick for this is to give learners to grammatical form that you are focussing on and ask them to predict what it is likely to be – this allows you to elicit a number of examples from the learners and focus them in on whatever authentic materials you are using. The last point was that you can adapt authentic multimedia resources – which Jamie demonstrated by turning a poem into a drilling exercise, simplifying some of the content. Another great tip that I took away from this session, is that while people often suggest exercises using key word in context searches from corpora, little of the context is provided, so it can be difficult for learners to relate to it; why not use Amazon as a corpus? The contexts are certainly much clearer.

I’ve always been interested in using authentic materials and Jamie’s session gave me a few ideas of how to stretch this further; I really like his trick for taking the language points out of video clips – Jamie is also a fantastic presenter and knows how to keep his audience interested. For more video materials to look at, check out Jamie’s site: http://lessonstream.org

Paul Braddock – Keeping them interested – Motivating Strategies with Teenagers

@bcnPaul 1

The next session with classroom ideas was all about Motivating Teenagers by Paul Braddock (aka @bcnPaul1). Paul showed us how he had used a dogme-esque approach, described as barefoot teaching, leaving the coursebook behind and negotiating a syllabus with learners. Paul surveyed the interests of his learners and used this to plan the sessions that he taught. As well as negotiation, the other key aspect of this approach was that learners could be motivated through creativity. Paul used a number of online tools, both for negotiating lessons with his learners (through online votes) and for harnessing creativity. These seem to have been two themes that have resonated through the conference, make sure that learners have ownership of the curriculum and use creativity as a motivating force. I’m going to write another post on the tech tools that I saw demonstrated, but Paul (among others) recommended Popplet, for creating mind maps, blogs and wikis for writing practice and using Jing for video feedback.

I’ve mentioned a few other sessions that looked at negotiating content with learners, this session showed how powerful it can be – I’ll go back to my own efforts to do the same with a bit more confidence now.

Lindsay Clandfield – Critical Thinking in ELT


Sunday was rounded off by Lindsay Clandfield talking about the use of critical thinking activities in class to deepen learning. One of his key messages was that critical thinking does not have to be about the ‘grand affairs of state’ but can be applied to many different linguistic items – however mundane they may seem. He also introduced the concept of critical literacy. The key is that we should be able to get learners to be able to examine different perspectives on texts and their surrounding contexts. The role of participants in texts can be examined, a great idea that I am now itching to try out is presenting learners with a set of ‘facts’ and asking them to identify possible sources (judging from their perspective). Critical thinking can also be done with images, examine the points of view of characters pictured, considering how something happened. These to me are great ideas and the session just spoke to me. Lindsay is the author of the Global series of coursebooks, which are inspired by these principles, I intend to see how I can use this with some of my classes as I think that these critical thinking skills could be a way of better engaging learners with the language that they are presented with, memorisation was a bit of a theme of a few sessions here and I think that encouraging learners to be critical can help this.

Beth Cagnol – Ruling the Unruly


Monday started with Ruling the Unruly from Beth Cagnol; this session was all about behaviour management, particularly with adult students, where it is often a neglected issue. The key points emphasised by Beth were that there are factors that the teacher has no control over as well as others where the teacher is in control. Communication is the main key – understand your learners’ situation and the issues that this may lead to, but if there are issues, communicate this straight away. Beth recommends emailing students straight after the class, pointing out why this behaviour is unacceptable and the effect that it has on other learners. However it is also crucial that the teacher listens to any feedback that they get from learners – maybe you need to consider if your lessons are enjoyable enough…. Or too enjoyable. Beth also pointed out that sometimes we push leaners too far – the foie gras English approach. This session couldn’t help but remind me of the ideas of negotiated curriculum that seemed to run through so many sessions. This idea of communication and negotiation seems to be so key in classroom management, and it is an area that I feel I could improve on.


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